"Next man up" is a popular axiom in sports. The idea that injuries happen and you overcome them with depth is a generally motivating idea, but not terribly practical. Teams that lose their best players to injuries don't tend to do so well. However, if that team happens to have quality depth, they may still not be a championship caliber team, but they can withstand certain losses.
Then there are the Astros.
Over the past month, they have lost Jose Altuve, George Springer, Aledmys Diaz, Colin McHugh, Max Stassi and Carlos Correa to an assortment of injuries. None of them threaten those individual players' seasons, but they have taken a bite out of the Astros schedule in May and June. Yet, they continue to cruise, mere percentage points behind the Twins for the best record in baseball and one of only three teams to reach 40 wins by early June.
It is partly a testament to the coaching of A.J. Hinch, who has been aggressive with players on the base paths and favored station-to-station baseball with timely hitting and excellent defense over home runs, which have naturally decreased given the losses. Some of it can be found in the greatness of Justin Verlander and Alex Bregman, nevermind a stellar bullpen that has helped to sustain them.
Ultimately, though, someone has to play in place of those missing starters and bench guys. Dudes named Myles Straw and Derek Fisher and Jack Mayfield and Garrett Stubbs have filled the shoes of former league and World Series MVPs, and done so admirably.
With Straw and Fisher, in particular, the Astros are faster leading to more steals and scoring from first on hits where most guys would barely make third. And their defense has remained steady, keeping them second in baseball in defensive runs saved, a critical measurement of their ability to keep games close.
With the great pitching and key situational hitting, they can slog through wins like the first in the series over the woeful Mariners with what felt like relative ease despite a lineup full of holes.
It should also be noted that this comes without two of the biggest weapons in their minor league arsenal, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez. Tucker, after a rough start to his spring, has been hitting the cover off the ball at AAA Round Rock and could be pushing for another shot at the major league level this summer. Then there is Alvarez who is so good he was intentionally walked five times in two consecutive games.
Eventually, these guys will get their shot and will likely be plugged in as heirs apparent to some of the ballclub's regular lineup players. The rest are fighting for their baseball lives, some of which may end after the guys heal and some of which may continue in some other city. For those guys, "next man up" isn't a loss, but an opportunity, one they are making the most of and the Astros are reaping the rewards.
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